Healthcare professionals are beginning to unravel the relationship between heart and hearing health. They've discovered that sensorineural hearing loss may be accelerated in those with poor cardiovascular health and prolonged exposure to noisy environments. And while they previously thought our hearing naturally deteriorates over time, new studies indicate the steps we take to improve our cardiovascular health may protect our hearing health as well.
A June 2010 article in the issue of the American Journal of Audiology suggests that cardiovascular disease may accelerate hearing loss. Authors Kathleen M. Hutchinson and Helaine Alessio of Miami University and Rachael Baiduc of Northwestern University measured hearing and cardiovascular health in 101 male and female participants between the ages of 10 and 78 years of age. They found those with higher levels of cardiovascular fitness also had better hearing, especially among the older participants in the study.
Additionally, a February 2011 study by the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that when hearing impairment is detected early, it can lead to lifestyle improvements that improve cardiovascular health and delay further hearing loss.
Most of the relationship between hearing health and cardiovascular disease is related to circulation. There's a big relationship between oxygen-rich blood flow and your hearing health. If your heart isn't healthy enough to keep blood flowing to the arteries and small blood vessels in your inner ear, it may not be able to supply it to the other organs in your body, either. Compromised blood flow from cardiovascular disease damages the hair cells of the inner ear which are responsible for translating sound vibrations into the electrical impulses for our brain to interpret.
Protecting your hearing from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) may also protect your heart. A study published in the October 2011 issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine determined there is a strong correlation between chronic exposure to occupational noise levels and heart disease.
Prolonged exposure to noises louder than 85 decibels can result in sensorineural hearing loss so it's best to wear hearing protection when you know you'll be in a noisy environment. For reference, if you have to shout to be heard by someone standing less than an arm's length away, the sound in that particular situation is dangerous to your health.
So, what's the best way to keep your hearing and your heart healthy? Don't smoke, exercise regularly, and wear hearing protection whenever you know you'll be in a noisy location. Finally, see your doctor regularly and ask that a hearing evaluation be part of your annual physical.